Beijing gets Olympic preparations under way

Posted: Monday, July 15, 2002

BEIJING -- Last year's victory parties are just a pleasant memory these days. Organizing an Olympics, after all, is hard work.

A year after winning the 2008 Games, Beijing's Olympic organizers are getting down to the complicated mechanics of putting together the world's biggest sports event. Bursting with public confidence, they insist everything is on track.

''I'm really sure that we're going to have an incredibly successful Games -- even more than I was last year,'' said Shan Jixiang, director-general of the Olympic planning and design committees.

Beijing marked the anniversary of its winning bid Saturday with sporting and cultural events around the city. Special emphasis was placed on motivating young people to pump up civic spirit.

The government still suggests that the Olympics will be something of a coming-out party to welcome the world to the new China -- albeit on China's own terms. And the bid, a source of massive national pride in a rapidly modernizing nation, remains highly popular, if a bit further in the background.

''Everybody is still really positive about it, but it's become a part of life. It's not something you think about every day,'' said Teng Jianfei, a dental clerk relaxing on a bench along Beijing's Wangfujing shopping street Saturday.

Ninety-one proposals have been received from Chinese and foreign design firms hoping to land contracts for the Olympic Green and a separate sport and culture center being built on the city's western edge, organizers say. Preparations for some projects are two years ahead of schedule, according to Shan.

Not that organizers are underestimating the job.

''Planning the Olympics is for us an unprecedented task of gigantic proportions,'' Beijing Mayor Liu Qi said. ''We can't take any winding roads. We can't make any major mistakes.''

Organizers say work to improve the environment, a key concern in this heavily polluted city, also is gathering pace.

The number of cars allowed to enter Beijing is to be restricted. Coal furnaces will be dismantled and major polluting industries closed, moved or told to reduce output. Capital Iron and Steel, one of the city's biggest industries and a major polluter, is being told to reduce its production by 2 million tons per year by the end of 2002.

The city and organizers also have promised thrift. Liu has said repeatedly that since Beijing is the capital of a developing country, it must exercise ''frugality and pragmatism'' in staging the games. Shan said the city is working to avoid Sydney's problems of putting venues to good use after the crowds go homne.

On the field, China hopes to improve on its haul of 28 gold medals at the Sydney Games. It plans to add athletes to its Olympic teams and focus anew on track, swimming and aquatic events where it has yet to make its mark.

China has also asked the International Olympic Committee to include Wushu, the traditional Chinese martial arts discipline, as a medal sport. Even if the IOC says no, Beijing would still have the right as host city to present Wushu as an exhibition.

For critics of China's human rights record who opposed awarding the games to Beijing, the anniversary was a time to express fresh anger. Tibetan exiles in India, for example, staged a demonstration against what they call widespread abuses in the Himalayan region that Chinese troops occupied in 1951.

In April, visiting IOC members praised Beijing's preparations so far, saying the Chinese had stuck ''very close'' to their proposals. But the IOC deflected questions about whether it was monitoring China's human rights policies in the run-up to 2008.

Anne Callaghan of the London-based Free Tibet Campaign said China's rights record could leave the IOC ''severely compromised,'' possibly even producing calls to remove the games from Beijing.

''Of course change doesn't happen overnight. But China isn't even going through the motions,'' Callaghan said. ''Rather, it is striking out even harder against dissent.''

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